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THE PRECIOUS MET ALS.
From Chambers' Edinburgh Journal, 1848.
Money, in some form or other, has in all time been so intimately associated with the business and pleasure of the world, with the public and private policy of nations and of individuals, as to have engaged the attention of philosophers and legislators, poets and philanthropists, as well as the votaries of the giddy goddess who regard it merely as the vehicle of enjoyment. Whatever the material of which the circulating medium is composed, its potency has varied but little, if at all, from the universal standard. Some people have considered that there was ónothing like leather,' and impressed a stamp upon bits of hide; others have declared in favor of iron, brass, bronze; in short, all the metals, as they were known, have been legitimatised into currency. In some countries yet unvisited by the schoolmaster, we are told that the natives use bullocks instead of bank-notes, with sheep by way of small change; others, again, recognize only lumps of salt, or shells. Still, as before observed, whatever the material, the conventional currency appears to be every where pretty much the same as among our day-book and ledger communities :
The only power
By common consent of all nations who have been able to obtain the precious metals, gold and silver have superseded all other materials of currency-always excepting paper. These occupy so small a space, admitting of being conve
nveniently hoarded and preserved, as to have commended themselves especially to popular instinct in remote and unsettled ages. At the time of the conquest of Persia by the Greeks, the gold accumulated by successive monarchs of that country amounted to about £80,000,000 sterling. The whole or greater portion of this large sum was transferred to Greece by the victories of Alexander, besides which there were several mines of gold and silver within the Grecian territory. The influx of such enormous wealth would necessarily tell on the manners of the people, and on prices; and accordingly, in the days of Demosthenes, gold and silver were five times less valuable than under Solon.Whatever be the amount circulating in a country, there is a constant tendency towards diminution; the immense accumulations would be widely scattered in foreign wars or intestine convulsions. How great must have been the dispersion of precious metals on the downfall of Rome, and afterwards of Byzantium! From the date of the latter event, down through the middle ages, and even to the present century, large sums have been totally lost, from the practice of burying money for safe-keeping, as in many instances the owners died, and carried ihe secret with them to the tomb. When to these causes is added the loss by ship
wreck, and other casualties, the result appears in the magnitude of the diminution. Just before the discovery of America, gold was at an enormous value, but subject to great and frequent fluctuations.
The amount of coined money circulating in the whole of Europe at the close of the fifteenth century, has been estimated at £34,000,000 sterling. The quantity coined in England in 237 years, ending in 1509, was equal to nearly £7,000 annually, present value; but from 1603 to 1829, the average was £819,415, or 122 times greater than before the supply from the mines of the new world. In addition to the causes of diminution above described, there is the mechanical wear of the money in passing from hand to hand. This loss has been variously estimated: according to Mr. M'Culloch, it is 1 per cent. per annum. If this be correct, £40,000,000 coined at the beginning of a century, would be reduced to £15,000,000 at the end; in two centuries, £6,000,000 would remain; and in five centuries, about £300,000 only. Taking Mr. Jacob's estimate of the annual wear at 1-360th part, what was £200,000,000 under Constantine, would be reduced to £12,000,000 in the time of Edward I.
The discovery of the mines of Potosi, above all other acquisitions made by Europeans in South America, effected an important change in the commercial relations of the old world. Purchasers found it necessary to go to market with more and more money in their hand, such was the progressive increase of prices. To many persons the rise was a source of exultation, but the greater part regarded it with suspicion and discontent: they could not understand why wheat should be doubled, and in some instances quadrupled, in price, in the course of a few years. The dissatisfaction was not confined to the poorer classes—it excited attention in higher quarters; and Latimer, in one of his sermons preached before Edward VI. and the court, animadverted upon the change in no very mild terms. In reality, mankind were benefited, not injured, by having more gold than they had before, just as they would be benefited by an increase in the amount of their wardrobes, or growing timber, or any other tangible possession. The present importations of silver into Europe are about 40 to 1 compared to those of gold. According to all the accounts, we are to see greater changes in the course of a few years, from the influx of the precious metals, than any
yet been produced. The application of European science and industry to the exploration of the hitherto imperfectly-worked mines of the South American States, will doubtless effect some notable difference in the proceeds. In those countries, wheelbarrows and vehicles for transport are scarcely known, and in most cases mule tracks are the only roads. The workmen generally employed in mining operations possess no other tools or machinery than their ten fingers, a lasso, and a knife. The loss and waste consequent upon such a state of things may be easily imagined. Mercury, as is well known, is an essential element in amalgamations of gold and silver, and in their separation from the ore; the quantity annually required for these purposes by the American mines is about 3,000,000 of pounds. Of this the greater portion is imported; and its transmission into the interior of the country is in the hands of monopolists, by whom the price is raised to so excessive an amount, as to leave but little room for profit to the miner. Various attempts have from time to time
been made to effect the operations in which mercury is employed by other methods: at Freyberg, in Saxony, the amalgamation is accomplished in revolving cylinders, which complete the process in fewer hours than the days consumed in the operation in Mexico and Peru, with a much smaller consumption of the quicksilver. In Europe, mercury is used to recombine the silver aster its separation from the ore, while the American miners employ it to effect the separation.
Recent and present researches in electro-chemistry render it certain that before long this resistless agency will supersede the use of quicksilver in the working of metals: its power over the elements of the most intimate combinations of metallic and other bodies is well known. The experiments of M. Becquerel in this branch of science have as yet been the most successful, and although not so effective as is to be desired, they have acquired an industrial character. Some of the experiments undertaken in Paris were tried upon nearly 10,000 pounds of silver ore from Mexico, and with a favorable result. A method of amalgamation has also been discovered, by means of which five-sixths of the mercury now considered essential to the process will be saved. About 40 ounces of silver are obtained from 1000 pounds of ore; the pulverization or trituration of the latter is effected in South America by the feet of men and mules, instead of water or other power. Human skill, in fact, seems to be deficient in proportion to the riches of nature. A machine somewhat similar to a mortar-crusher was introduced at Potosi to supply the place of animal labor by a European. With this instrument, one man and a mule, costing five shillings per day, could do as much work as twenty Indians, for whom the charge was three pounds. Although this machine was constructed more than twelve years ago, not one of the laborers or workmen employed at the mines has attempted to imitate it: they leave the owner in undisturbed possession of his advantage, and plod on in their old way. This fact alone will suffice to show the waste of capabilities in the search for metals, and the increased return that may be looked for under a more ellicient system of management. The conquest of Mexico by the people of the United States may be regarded as a preliminary step in the development of those hitherto neglected resources. With their restless enterprizing spirit, roads, canals, and railways will soon be constructed, and the mining returns will reach their maximum.
Baron Humboldt has expressed himself in most positive terms on the subject of the future production of the precious metals. Confining himself to the Mexican states alone, he says—When we consider the vast extent of surface occupied by the Cordilleras, and the immense number of mineral deposits which have not yet been attacked, we shall understand that New Spain, when better governed, and inhabited by an industrious population, will yield for her own share the seven millions now furnished by the whole of America. In the space
of one hundred
years, the annual produce of the Mexican mines was raised from 1,000,000 to nearly 5,000,000 of pounds. In another place he writes-Europe would be inundated with precious metals if simultaneous labors were commenced, with all the improvements in mining machinery, upon the deposits at Balanos, Batopilas, Sombrerete, Rosario, Pachuca, Sultepec, Chihuahua, and many others long and justly celebrated. . . . . There is no doubt that the produce of the mines of Mexico might be doubled or tripled in the space of a century. . . . . In general, the abundance of silver is such in the chain of the Andes, that taking into consideration the beds yet left intact, or which have been but superficially worked, we should be tempted to believe that Europeans have scarcely begun to comprehend the inexhaustible sund of riches shut up in the new world.' With the proverbial celerity of the United States' population, much of the work here calculated for one hundred years is likely to be achieved in a quarter of that time: the effect on rates of exchange and prices all over the world will be very remarkable. Silver, it is calculated, will be reduced at least one-half in value; and those countries in which the greatest amount of this metal is in circulation will be most exposed to loss. The silver coin circulating in Europe is commonly estimated at £320,000,000, of which France holds three-eighths: according to some authorities, the contingency to be provided for is only a question of time.
A phenomenon will be exhibited similar to that which complicated prices and transformed so many social positions three centuries ago. The crisis, however, will be much less rapid and less violent; berause the mass of silver already acquired by the old continent being enormous, the influence of even a considerable quantity thrown into the market will make itself felt more slowly. The level between different centres of commerce is more easily established than formerly; a glut upon one isolated point is therefore little to be feared. After some time, the value of silver would be regulated everywhere by the cost price; and if the expenses of production are reduced one half
, any country at present in possession of a currency worth £30,000,000, would be the poorer to the amount of £15,000,000, since the quantity of labor and of profit which a shilling would then represent would be diminished by one-half.'
Mines of gold and silver are, however, not exclusively confined to America: with the exception of England, there are several in nearly every ther country of Europe, and the return from some of these is increasing every year, a cause which will naturally accelerate the effects contemplated. An accurate annual statement is published of the produce of the mines of Russia. In that empire, the metalliferous deposits extend over a region stretching from Kamtchatka to Peru—one half of the earth's circle in length, with an average breadth of 8 degrees of latitude. The presence of gold under this portion of the world's surface was early known, and recorded by llerodotus, but was subsequently lost sight of for two thousand years. In 1774, the re-discovery of auriferous sand was made during some repairs to the machinery at the Klutchefsk mines; further discoveries followed, and in 1823, the present system of working was commenced. The richest deposits are found in the Ural and Altai mountains: in 1856, the proluce of gold was 13,000 pounds weight; in 1815, it had increased to 45,000 pounds; and as far as ascertained, the returns for 18 16 were still augmenting. The gold furnished by Russia is to that of America as 114 to 100. “So great is the quantity of geld at present existing among civilized nations, that an annual addition of 45,000 pounds would not for a long time cause any sensible difference.'
For some of the facts and conclusions in the foregoing paper, we are indebted to an elaborate article on the subject in the •Revue des Deux Dondes,' by M. Chevalier.
PRINCIPLE AND CIRCUMSTANCES.
From Chambers' Edinburgh Journal.
It is the distinguishing characteristic of man to appreciate moral truth, and to follow its dictates from an inward principle, which is not a mere casual impulse, or current opinion of the day, but the calm deduction of the h‘ghest reason, harmonizing with the declared will of God, and acting through the medium of an enligiitened conscience.
A high authority teaches us to combat circumstances, and promises high rewards to those who overcome. It urges us to be pure amongst the impure—not to go out of the world, but to overcome the evil which is in it. Thus we are taught that “life is a warfare, in which we must side with the good or evil; and just in proportion as we show indecision, we shall invariably suffer as moral beings. This opposing of “circumstances' by force of an inward principle, is the great moral warfare, in which all good and true men have to bear a part, and the weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; that is, they consist of principles. What numerous things there are in every-day life which might yield a momentary gratification, but from the commission of which a man of principle is continually deterred! He might take some step which would make him suddenly rich, but he is deterred from doing so if it should cause injury or suffering to his fellow-creatures; he might invade the liberties and enjoyments of his fellow-men with impunity; in fact there is no limit to the mischief which every man might commit, if not under the restraint we have indicated. Virtuous conduct, therefore, is but the amount of resistance to circumstances, and the amount of sacrifice we may have submitted to for the sake of principle. We know, from experience, that there is no eminence of any kind without effort, resistance, discipline; and the excellence of the attainment is generally in proportion to the severity of the discipline. Exercise and effort tend to improve all our faculties, mental and moral, as well as physical. Providence seems to have interposed the obstacles of circumstances,' in order to strengthen character, and to develop virtue. Virtuous conduct, therefore, is not a mere conventionality or converience of action. That is not virtue which is never tested by trial and temptation. Virtuous conduct cometh out of the furnace, and shines with increasing lustre. Everything that is lovely in character, ever act of moral bravery and virtue, derives its lustre from this baitling with circunstances, and overcoming